Tag Archives: spooky film recs

Pretty Little Distractions

The world is too much with me these days, my friends, and thus I find myself searching for solace in story. When my aging eyes are strained from work, I’m less enthused about escaping into a book; luckily, there have been plenty of satisfying/distracting stories to be found on the small screen lately.

Once upon a time I received eye rolls and sneers when I mentioned Hallmark movies (and perhaps there was a time when I sneered), but these days more and more of my friends are watching right along with me. I’ve found this year’s “Winterfest” offerings to be pretty strong. Of course there’s a formula, and we all know who is getting together by the end of the movie, but there’s some comfort to be derived from that, right? The above two films were particular favorites of mine — the dialogue was snappy and the chemistry between the leads fun to watch. (Note: Hallmark finally is introducing more diversity into their productions, which is great, but I think we’re all MORE than ready for diverse romantic leads, okay? Can we get on that soon?)

DVR ALERT: All four of the Winterfest movies will run this Saturday (1/27) starting at 1 EST. And coming very soon from Hallmark — the Valentine’s Day movies!

Too sappy for you? Well, let’s do a 180 with these options:

Lately I’ve become obsessed with the horror films of Mike Flanagan. (And yes, HE is the writer/director for the forthcoming Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House!) My obsession began when one of my favorite YouTube film reviewers, Chris Stuckmann, included Gerald’s Game in his list of favorite films of 2017. His recommendation, along with the fact that it’s a Stephen King story, prompted me to track it down immediately. You guys, the TENSION! It’s excruciating at times. But that tension, along with the performances from Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood, make this such a remarkable viewing experience. For me the film’s coda somewhat undercuts the overall effect, but your mileage may vary. Here’s what I love about Flanagan’s films — they are character-driven (always featuring strong women), thoughtfully cast, and do not rely overmuch on special effects or jump scares. Oculus, in my opinion, drags out a little long, but Karen Gillan gives an inspired performance as a young woman trying to prove, through a carefully conceived paranormal investigation (Eee, one of my favorite things in a horror movie!), that a cursed mirror killed her parents. Ouija: Origin of Evil started out so brilliantly with a widowed mother and her daughters adding a Ouija board to their seance scams. I was in horror HEAVEN. Things fell apart at the end, sadly, but perhaps this was due to the constraints of it being a prequel? I have quibbles with all three of the films, but I still enthusiastically recommend them to horror buffs. (Something to consider–Ouija: Origin of Evil is PG-13, but the other two are definitely more adult.)

ETA: Gerald’s Game and Oculus are available on Netflix, but I could only watch Ouija-Origin of Evil through a trial subscription to Cinemax (available through Amazon Prime).

Okay, so maybe you’re not quite up to a horror film at this moment. Don’t worry, I’ll mention the above films again in early October when I offer my annual horror recommendations. For now you might prefer something “in between” — not too sappy, not too dark and creepy.

How about this?

After mainlining the series Shetland, with angsty cutie-pie DI Jimmy Perez (played by perennial favorite Douglas Henshall), I thoroughly expected Vera, also based on novels by Ann Cleeves, to be “meh” by comparison. Well, I’m in the sixth season now and I think I love it MORE than Shetland. It all comes down to the performance by Brenda Blethyn. Honestly, I feel nearly the same about her as I do about Helen Mirren–I simply long to meet her and bask in her glory. Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope is very real to me, and I adore her, and I love to watch the team come together under her somewhat cranky and impatient direction. There is darkness in the show, to be sure, and occasional moments of heartbreak, but Vera fights on and always solves the case. Bonus: we are treated to lovely shots of the Northumbrian moors and coastline.

ETA: Vera is available to watch through Acorn TV.

How about you? What have been your favorite TV distractions of late?

Spooky Film Recs for Halloween, part III (2017 edition)

The adventure concludes!

I tend to gravitate toward ghost films, but from time to time other forms of horror tempt me. So if you’re looking for a ghost-free option, here are three films for your consideration:


The Devil’s Candy (2015) — Unrated
A struggling painter is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas.
After finding this on several “best horror” lists I decided to branch out a little from my usual ghostly fare. Imagine my surprise when I recognized gentle Coyote Bernstein from Grace & Frankie playing the tormented hero! (Can we all get the name of the trainer who prepped Ethan Embry for his shirtless scenes, please?) A man’s struggle with artistic integrity clashes with his obligations as a father, and the way in which the conflict evolves makes for a very tense–at times gut wrenching–viewing experience. (BTW: I happened upon this youtube review and I agree with everything this guy says about The Devil’s Candy. But I can’t decide if I want you to watch the review before or after viewing the film. Maybe it’s better NOT to know too much before watching?) The Devil’s Candy is unrated but I’d give it a strong R for violence, gore, and disturbing content.
Watch the trailer (a bit OTT). Available on Netflix. Metascore: 72


The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) — rated R
A scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.
I devoured (heh) M.R. Carey’s novel a couple of years ago, so of course I noticed the departures from the text and missed the character development while watching the film. Still, I think it holds up as its own thing, particularly because of the strong performances. (Special thumbs up for Sennia Nanua and the always brilliant Paddy Considine.) If you’re looking for a fresh entry in the post-apocalyptic genre, I recommend this film. And if you like it, please read the book!
Watch the trailer (or don’t — it’s spoils more than I’d prefer). Available on Amazon Prime and on Netflix (DVD only). Metascore: 67


The Invitation (2015) — Unrated
While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests.
This is one of those films where I think the less I say the better, so this will be brief. Two years after a terrible tragedy, old friends gather. But the hosts have a mysterious agenda, and our protagonist (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom Hardy — I’m not complaining!) suspects a dark purpose lurks behind their seductive hospitality. Deliciously eerie and tense! The Invitation is unrated, but I’d give it an R for violence and adult content.
Watch the trailer. Available on Netflix. Metascore: 72

That’s it for this year. Feel free to share your Horror recommendations in the comments. Wishing you heaps of happy horror viewing this Halloween!

AND REMEMBER — if at any point you want to browse my previous spooky film recs (which go all the way back to 2012), simply click the tag “spooky film recs” in the tags list below or in the sidebar! Easy Peasy.

Spooky Film Recs for Halloween, part II (2017 edition)

The adventure continues…


Dark Signal (2016) — Unrated
The spirit of a murdered girl returns with a message for the staff of a local radio station.
Ghostly voices appearing during a radio broadcast? Yes, please! I’m a fan of Welsh actor Gareth David-Lloyd from his days on Torchwood, so of course I had to watch this one. Dark Signal is just as much slasher film as ghost story, and there’s hardly any subtlety to it, but it totally held my attention. Also, it briefly features James Cosmo, who is in every TV show and film you’ve ever loved, so why not give it a try? If there’s such a thing as a “ghostly slasher romp,” this is it. (No rating, but I would give it an “R” for language/violence/gore.)
Watch the Trailer (warning: it is cranked up to eleven!). Available from Netflix and for rent from Amazon. No meta score — see external reviews on imdb here.


Under the Shadow (2016) — PG-13
As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.
This is the best reviewed film of my 2017 recommendations, and I enjoyed every second of it. A progressive Iranian woman denied the opportunity to continue her medical studies must accustom herself to stay-at-home mothering when her doctor husband is sent to the front lines. The bombing of Tehran grows increasingly violent, but she knows that taking her daughter to her in-laws will mean a loss of freedom. Does her resentment at being left behind (in more ways than one) explain the bad behavior of her daughter? Or is something else going on? Highly recommended, and very possibly an option for family viewing. Filmed in Persian but English subtitles available.
Watch the Trailer. Available from Netflix and for rent at Amazon. Metascore: 84


I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House (2016) — Unrated
A young nurse takes care of an elderly author who lives in a haunted house.
This is my favorite of the new-to-me ghost films I’ve watched this year. From the very first line I wondered if this was based on a Shirley Jackson short story. (The title and the protagonist’s voice-over narration both reminded me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.) But no, this was written and directed by Oz Perkins, son of the late Anthony Perkins, and once I figured that out it all made a certain sort of sense to me. I LOVED it. Warning: people who crave jump scares, gore, and a clear resolution will not like this film. It’s a slow burn of dread punctuated by occasional bursts of horror. Ruth Wilson (so good in Jane Eyre, Luther, and The Affair) offers a quirky and compelling performance. No rating, but solidly PG-13 in content.
Watch the Trailer. Available from Netflix. Metascore: 68

(Perkins’ first horror film, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, features more hallmarks of the genre — demonic possession, lots of blood/gore, surprising twist in the resolution — but I cared less about the characters in that one. RogerEbert.com agrees: “In spite of some compelling performances and a consistent mood, [Blackcoat’s Daughter] fails to ground any of these aesthetic flourishes in story or emotion.” It’s a good film and worth watching, but I am the Pretty Thing was much more to my taste.)

Stay tuned for the final installment of my 2017 film recs, in which I’ll be sharing non-ghostly horror options.

AND REMEMBER — if at any point you want to browse my previous spooky film recs, simply click the tag “spooky film recs” in the tags list below or in the sidebar! Easy Peasy.

Spooky Film Recs for Halloween, part I (2017 edition)

It’s that time of year when I voraciously consume recent (or new-to-me) horror films in hopes of sharing my favorites with you — oh what fun I have! If you are a horror fan, you’ve probably seen most of the recent mainstream options. However, there are plenty of lesser known films waiting to give you goosebumps, and I’ll feature a few of them today and next week.

Sadly, I’ve only seen two horror films in the theater this year: Get Out (huge thumbs up for this one–more about tension than horror) and Annabelle: Creation (Bleh–I’m not a fan of the “jumpscares on a platter” brand of horror). For a mainstream Gothic option, I highly recommend Sofia Coppola’s gorgeously haunting The Beguiled (a vast improvement upon the 1971 Clint Eastwood version, in my opinion, though perhaps not as true to the novel).

And now I offer some lesser-known horror films for your consideration:


The Blackwell Ghost (2017) — Unrated
A filmmaker tries to prove that ghosts are real but soon regrets his intentions after he finds himself being terrorized in a haunted house by a ghost with a dark past.

There is no IMDB listing for this, and therefore no rating or metascore. I’m convinced this is a mockumentary, but it’s realistic enough to have inspired at least one paranormal researcher to investigate it. (Although this investigation could have been part of the promo?) I happen to LOVE films about paranormal investigations, and I prefer fictional representations to actual ghost hunter shows, which alternately embarrass and bore me. This film is only an hour long, and I found it charming, funny, and legitimately spooky. It didn’t terrify me, but I experienced actual, sustained GOOSEBUMPS, and you know by this point I am terribly jaded regarding horror films. This is the kind of film I wish there were more of–engaging characters, spooky setting, and a reliance on tension rather than jump scares. I would give it a PG rating for a bit of profanity. No sex/violence/gore. (Teachers–this one could be fun to watch in a high school film class!)
Watch the trailer. Available on Amazon (free for Prime members).


A Dark Song (2016) — Unrated
A determined young woman and a damaged occultist risk their lives and souls to perform a dangerous ritual that will grant them what they want.

Found this recommended at Vulture’s Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So far). First of all, it was shot at a Welsh country house, so if nothing else you’ll enjoy the scenery. I appreciated how the film perfectly enacts the “emotional wound” sort of story journey–for that very reason, however, it’s not an easy film to watch. If something along the lines of “Extreme Bootcamp for Desperate Occultists” appeals to you, you might appreciate this. It is unrated, but I would give it a solid R for adult content, brief nudity, and mild gore. This isn’t a “fun” horror film, but it is beautifully shot, wonderfully atmospheric, and interesting as a character study.
Watch the Trailer. Available at Netflix and for rent at Amazon. Metascore: 71


The Possession (2012) — Rated PG-13
A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl’s father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.

I found a reference to this while researching dybbuks and was surprised I’d never heard of it. It isn’t a great film, but it does spend a good amount of time on character development and offers nuanced performances from Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, and the young actresses who play their daughters. Yes, there are hokey and/or predictable moments, but there are some truly spine-chilling ones, as well. Go in with low expectations, perhaps?
Watch the trailer. Available on Amazon to rent or buy. Metascore: 45 (rather low, but Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 stars out of 4. And it’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick!)

Stay tuned — more recommendations coming on Tuesday!

AND REMEMBER — if at any point you want to browse my previous spooky film recs (dating all the way back to 2012), simply click the tag “spooky film recs” in the tags list below or in the sidebar! Easy Peasy.

Spooky Films for Younger Viewers


To conclude my 2016 “Spooky Films for Halloween” series, I offer suggestions appropriate for younger viewers (and those adults who aren’t quite up to the intense horror options I’ve previously recommended). Please mention your own favorites in the comments, and I will gladly watch. Always looking for options to feature in next year’s post!


ParaNorman (2012) — rated PG
A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.

A good choice for young viewers who enjoy potty humor, mild body horror (e.g. zombie arms falling off), and extended chase scenes. The tone takes a more serious turn in the climactic scenes, which are really quite stunning to watch.
Watch the trailer. Rent at Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 72/100


Frankenweenie (2012) — rated PG
Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

This poignant and suspenseful homage to classic monster movies bogs down just a bit in the middle (in my opinion), but patient viewers will be rewarded when disaster and hilarity ensue! (Is it just me, or does Victor resemble Cillian Murphy?)
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 74/100


Coraline (2009) — rated PG
An adventurous girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home, but it has sinister secrets.

I loved Neil Gaiman’s book, and this adaptation is eerie, odd, and totally endearing. Highly recommended!
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 80/100

Also recommended — two ghostly mini-series from the UK:


From Time to Time (2009) — rated PG
A haunting ghost story spanning two worlds, two centuries apart. When 13 year old Tolly finds he can mysteriously travel between the two, he begins an adventure that unlocks family secrets laid buried for generations.

Julian Fellowes’ adaptation of Lucy M. Boston’s Chimneys of Green Knowe is more mystery than horror. I love stories involving WWII child evacuees, and the setting of this film is wonderfully Gothic. Gently paced and at times a bit twee, this story will appeal to young fans of historical fiction.
Watch the trailer. Available to stream from Netflix. Rent from Amazon.


The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012) — unrated
A year after their son goes missing, a family moves to Crickley Hall. When supernatural events begin to take place, Eve feels the house is somehow connected to her lost son.
I’ve seen this twice now, and I liked it even better upon second viewing. Caution: It’s not for little kids, but I think it might work for family viewing with kids 12-up. Great setting, strong performances, and an interesting mystery. Please keep in mind its emphasis on loss and grief, and understand that there are many scenes involving children in serious peril.
Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon.

[all synopses from imdb.com]